Territorial Army: Rebalancing

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:02 pm on 23rd March 2006.

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Photo of Lord Bramall Lord Bramall Crossbench 2:02 pm, 23rd March 2006

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating that Statement. On the whole, I gratefully welcome it as focusing interest on this most important part of our defence forces. It was good to hear of the recognition given in the Statement to their once again winning their spurs with no fewer than 12,000 deployed in Iraq. Of course, the one-Army concept, which the Minister has mentioned, is nothing new. When I was Commander in Chief of UK land forces 30 years ago, I struggled to make that excellent concept work. But it is good to know that there is firm political support for it now.

In a perfect world, on the infantry side, for example, a regular battalion ought to have four companies for the job that it has to do, but for manpower limitation reasons has only three. It should be able, therefore, under certain circumstances to call on that fourth company from the territorial battalions which are now closely affiliated and integrated with the regulars, and bear the same name and cap badge. It is good to know that each TA unit will be given a definite role in large-scale operations and that, realistically and hopefully, the use of Reserves is limited to one year in five, or is it three? But it is important that a limitation like that is taken into consideration.

It is also good to know that the established strength will be kept at 42,000, plus the important officer training corps of 3,500. But the Government must do all in their power to see that the manning is not allowed to fall much below that which it is at the moment. The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, has pointed out some of the dangers in that respect. The Government must ensure that money is provided properly to train the force and to equip it.

In addition, it is good to know that within the manpower it will be possible to raise an aviation regiment of some form—a very good idea. I am rather sad that there is no opportunity to get civilian helicopter pilots into this—they might be useful and prepared in an emergency, as would engineers. I was always brought up to believe that you never had enough sappers. The Military Police and transport are of course very important.

I do not know what is meant in the Statement by:

"We have therefore made allowance . . . for both a training margin and a mobilisation margin".

Perhaps the Minister could be slightly more explicit. I hope that it does not mean that a TA company commander cannot, for some reason, train his complete company on training or even, under certain circumstances, on operations. Altogether, it is a positive Statement, which focuses attention on this vital part of our defence forces. I, for one, on the whole, greatly welcome it.